How to Stay Out of the Weeds

Posted 11.15.2022

A common dilemma for the leaders I work with is that, in spite of their best intentions to operate at a big picture strategic level, they find themselves regularly getting pulled into the weeds of day-to-day details that really aren’t the highest and best use of their time and attention. Honestly, sometimes they just go there – no pulling required.

That leads to an age-old question: How do you stay out of the weeds?

I loved it when I heard a brilliant answer to that question a couple of weeks ago from a leader in one of our current Next Level Leadership® group coaching cohorts. For years, this leader has been the go-to person on the strategic account he leads. It doesn’t matter that he has a big and competent team, whenever the client has a question or problem on any issue – big or small – he’s the go-to resource. He’s felt like he hasn’t just been pulled into the weeds; he’s had to set up a house in them.

So, one of the behaviors he decided to focus on in the development plan based on his Next Level 360 results was “Focuses less on day-to-day operations and more on taking advantage of strategic opportunities.” That’s the classic behavior to work on if you want to stay out of the weeds. You can imagine how excited I was for him when, in a recent check-in conversation with his small group, he started beaming when I asked how things were going.

He shared that he’s implemented a new rule for himself – don’t be the first to speak up or jump in. Because he’s a highly responsible person who wants to help, he’s always been the first to respond to a request posed in a group email, Slack thread, or staff meeting. A month or so ago, he quit going first. He’s allowing his team members or others in the group to go first and only jumping in if it’s absolutely necessary. It’s changing his life and not just because he’s not taking on the work of whatever request is on the table. He’s also noticed that when he was the first to jump in and take on a task, he was immediately asked to take on four other things in addition to the one he volunteered to do.

The simple act of not going first has gotten him out of the weeds and is beginning to change not his work life, but his life in general. He’s created more time during the work day to think and operate strategically. His evenings and weekends are starting to free up so he can relax and renew and start the next day fresher and sharper. And the benefits aren’t just accruing to him. The people on his team are developing and feeling more empowered to make decisions because he’s giving the space for them to go first instead of always going first himself.

For years, one of my coaching maxims has been to encourage my clients to look for and implement action steps that are relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference. When it comes to staying out of the day-to-day weeds so you can think and act more strategically, the simple action step of not going first feels like a winner. If you’re struggling to stay out of the weeds, I encourage you to try it.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.